|| Satyameva Jayate ||

Dedicated to “Bharat” and “Dharma”

“Hindu”, India and “Bharat” – The Story behind Word Origins

Several months ago, a friend asked me the origin of the word India and �Hindu�. That question spurred this brief piece of research.

Most experts agree today that the name �India� was derived from the river Indus (in today�s Pakistan). But the name �Indus� itself has a fascinating history behind it.

In ancient times, the entire Indus river system (along with its seven tributaries – Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Jhelum, Beas and the now extinct River Saraswati[i]) and the area it covered, used to be called �Sapta Sindhu[ii]� i.e. the land of seven rivers (�Sindhu� means river in Sanskrit).

The word �Sindhu� not only referred to the river system and adjoining area but also became the label to denote the culture that had developed along its valleys (In fact, continuing archaeological evidence suggests that the �Indus Valley Civilization� should more accurately be called the Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization considering the land mass where it developed).

The corruption of �Sindhu� into �Hindu� can be traced back to journeys made by early Persian explorers from the Northwest who due to the peculiarities of their own language aspirated the �S� sound in �Sindhu� to make the word �Hindu�
Thus to world beyond, the area around the Saraswati-Sindhu rivers and its culture became to be known as the area of �Hindus� (thus the name Hindustan which literally means the land of �Hindus�)

This nomenclature stuck and became particularly prevalent after the invasion and conquest of �India� by Mughals. The Mughals (based on the earlier Persian terminology) used the term �Hindu� to refer to the original inhabitants of the land and this label became the way to distinguish native/indigenous/ancient culture form that of the invaders.

About 2500 years ago, when the Greeks first reached the river plains of Punjab, they borrowed the name of the region from the Persians and simply modified it to �Indos�. �Indos� later morphed into �Indus� in Latin � by which name the river is still known in the West. The Romans began to call the whole land mass after this river and thus the name �India� came to stay � which has been the form used by Europeans over the ages.

It is clear from the above that the word �Hindu� simply meant (someone living in India) “Indian” or (something) related to India.

The term Hindu did not signify any religion or set of religious beliefs but was really a label for a specific landmass. At best the word simply implied someone associated with (or dwelling in) the geographical area the boundaries of which were roughly covered by the Saraswati-Sindhu rivers and their tributaries.

In the words of Dr Morales, �the term “Hindu” is not a term that is inherent to the religion itself. Rather, the term is known to have been first coined by the ancient Persians, who were culturally, religiously, and perspectively extrinsic to the culture. The term was first used by these ancient Persians in order to conveniently designate the ancient Vedic spiritual culture, and was mistakenly used to refer to the Vedic religion as primarily a geographic and ethnic phenomenon, more than as a religio-philosophical world-view.To the ancient Persians, the word �Hindu� simply referred to the culture, people, religion and practices of the peoples who lived on the other side of the Sindhu River. In the ancient Avestan Persian language ‘s’ grammatically became ‘h’. Thus, the Persians pronounced the name of this river �Hindhu�, rather than �Sindhu�. Thus, ironically, the currently used word �Hindu� is itself a corruption of the Persian word �Hindhu�, which is in turn a corruption of the term �Sindhu�, which is itself only referring to a river, and not a religion! Thus when the word �Hindu� is used today to refer to the ancient religion of India, the term is in actuality a corruption of a corruption of a word whose meaning is irrelevant to begin with.In his essay, �Word as a Weapon�, Dr Morales has further examined the labels �Hindu� (and �Hinduism�) and suggested alternative terms.In my review of his essay, http://hindu_dharma.blogspot.com/2005/11/excerpts-from-word-as-weapon.html, I had offered the following suggestion, which I believe is even more relevant today:Let us henceforth decide to refer to ancient Indian achievements as Hindu achievements (which is what they are). And let us all insist on calling our religions �Sanatana Dharma� rather than a sterile �Hinduism�.

�Bharat�, that is India
India�s �official� name is Bharat � and this is accorded equal primacy as the word India in the Constitution. In fact the First Clause of the Constitution begins with the words, �India, that is Bharat�.

There is a general mis-conception that India (or to be more accurate, �Bharat�) as a nation did not exist until the British brought hundreds of princely states and fiefdoms under central rule. This is false and historically inaccurate � those of you who have read History would be aware that Samrat Ashok�s kingdom probably had the largest expanse of land of any kingdom in ancient times and of course included almost all of the Indian sub-continent � i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of neighbouring states such as Nepal and Afghanistan.

In the words of Shri Srinivasan Kalyanaraman, �For those who think that the nation of Bharat is a British creation, they should be reminded about Rigveda verse by Vis’vamitra RV 3.53.12: vis’va_mitrasya raks.ati brahmedam bharatam janam, (this mantra of Vis’vamitra will protect the nation of the people of Bharatam). In Tamil bharatam (written pa_ratam) refers to the Hindu ra_s.t.ra.http://hindu_dharma.blogspot.com/2006/02/india-that-is-bharat.html

There are also references in ancient literature, including the �Bhagavad-Gita� to large parts of the landmass that we now call India, as �Bharat� or �Bharatavarsha�. See e.g. an article written by Shri Bhatnagar at http://humnri.com/HumZ/Articles/Article.aspx?number=15181

��from Scanto V of Srimad Bhagavatam -Chapter 19 -The description of Jambudwipa concluded:
The people of Bharatavarsa touch with their body too the water of these rivers, which purify them by their very names.(17)Candravasa Tamraparni, Avatoda, Krtamala, Vaihayasi, Kaveri, Veni, Payaswini, Sarkaavarta, Tungabhadra, Krsna, Venya, Bhimarathi, Godavari, Nirvindhya, Payosni, Tapi, Reva, Surasa, Narmada Carmanvati (and) Sindhu, two big rivers — Andha (Brahmaputra) and Sona (Sone) — Mahanadi, Vedasmrti, Rsikulya, Trisama, Kausiki, Mandakini, Yamuna, Saraswati, Drsadvati, Gomati, Sarayu, Rodhaswati Saptavati, Susoma, Satadru, Candrabhaga, Marudvrdha, Vitasta, Asikni (and) Viswa are (the names of) the principal rivers.(18)

But all this would be irerelevant if we ourselves forget our name � so let us make an effort to remember (and to make others aware) that India does have an indigenous name � �Bharat� � and let us be proud of it.


[i] The first five of these rivers gave �Punj � Aab� its name � the land of five rivers

Related Posts:

More on origin & usage of the word��Hindu�

This must be the last word on origin of��Hindu��


See also this comment explaining the origin of the word, “BhArat” (the real name for India)



May 27th, 2006 Posted by | A Hindu Identity, An Indian Identity, Ancient Indian History, Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Distortions, Misrepresentations about India, Featured, Indian History, Sanatana Dharma | 61 comments


  1. Hello Everyone,

    Regarding Bharata and Bharatavarsha, I’m cross posting what I wrote at DFI (Defence Forum India). http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/religion-culture/34313-bharat-how-did-our-country-get-name-2.html#post464195
    Young Bharata was the progeny of King Dushyant and Shakuntala. After Dushyant’s death Bharata ruled as a just King and conquered vast lands as a mighty warrior. He ruled the entire sub continent of India from the ocean upto the great moutains of Himalaya. His empire was called Bharatvarsha, the land of Bharat.
    “The country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.”
    Vishnu Puran 2.3.1
    Here, ‘varsa’ means a division/part of the Earth. All this happened many generations before the great Bharata war – Mahabharata
    So Bharatvarsha means Bharat’s part of the land or perhaps – part of the land where Bharat’s people dwell. Pardon, I’m dumb in Sanskrit.
    Bharatvarsha is the correct name and Bharat is only the short version or sort of slang for it.
    DFI is a vibrant place where we discuss subjects from a wide spectra. Focus is on defense and geo politik but issues of religion, culture, history, society & current affairs are well debated. I’m not a moderator or admin to promote that forum here but am a regular visitor and hence this friendly recommendation of sorts.


    Comment by Virendra | May 23, 2012

  2. Thank you very much. It is a very good article to ponder.
    My question is what part did Mohenjo Daro and Harrapa civilization affect Hinduism or how Hinduism affect these civilizations?
    Please give me some references to go bye.
    How did Sindh became 90% Muslim population?

    Comment by Ram Chellaram M.D. Ph.D. | July 10, 2012

  3. Namaskar Shantanu ji,

    You asked me to summarise the pdf doc “Antiquity and Origin of the Term ‘Hindu'” by Dr. Murlidhar H. Pahoja I sent you via email.

    He differs from your point of view regarding Sindhu being corrupted to Hindu.If its the case then Persia should be Perhia.And he also says its Saurashtran practice of pronouncing ‘H’ in place of ‘S’.
    He also says that the word ‘Hidu’ can been seen in the inscription of Darius dated between 520-485 B.C.
    He also says “The Asokan inscriptions (3rd century B.C.)5, repeatedly use expressions like ‘Hida’ for ‘India’ and ‘Hida loka’for ‘Indian nation’.”
    He also quotes from some sanskrit texts about the use of word ‘hind’.
    The chinese used term ‘Hien-tu’ for ‘Hindu’ about 100 B.C and Fa-Hien (5th century A.D.) and Huen-Tsang (7th century A.D.)used ‘Yintu’.

    He also quotes some of the ancient arabic poetry where ‘Hind’ isused for India and ‘Hindu’ for Indians.

    I request you to go through the pdf document its a 10 minute read.

    The link to download the pdf document is sarasvati95.googlepages.com/antiquityhindu.pdf


    Comment by Madhu | September 2, 2012

  4. Shantanu Ji,

    It is our lefty historian’s line to say that when invaders like Arabs came in and saw Sindhu, they called it Hindu and the people around it as Hindu people.
    Hindu is much ancient than that. Although one cannot deny that at some time point of time even Sindhu’s corruption to Hindu may also have been a case.
    But it certainly goes many centuries before common era.


    Comment by Virendra | September 2, 2012

  5. Excellent article by Mr B Shantanu, and very informative thread thereafter. Over the years, I have come across fair bit of research and discussion on the origins of the words Bharat, Indus, and Hindu etc. There is now almost universal agreement on what Shantanu has stated in his article. However, such “conclusions” are not very well known outside the domain of historians, and misconceptiosn still abound. Mr Shanatnu has done a great service by bringiong these views out. His article is very informative, and is seemingly authentic (if such a term can be applied to something from such antiquity).

    Thanks Mr Shantanu, and all the others who participated in this thread, for the illuminatiing discussion.

    While on the subject, I am looking for a FORUM where ancient history of the indian subcontinent is discussed. any help would be much appreciated.

    Regards all, and Jai Bharat.

    Dr Bhupi Singh

    Comment by Bhupi Singh | September 14, 2012

  6. Dear Ram Chellaram you had put some answer of your quotations on dated 10th July, 2012 which were: question is what part did Mohenjo Daro and Harrapa civilization affect Hinduism or how Hinduism affect these civilizations?
    Please give me some references to go bye.
    How did Sindh became 90% Muslim population?

    I came into conclusion that you are lack knowledge about history about Hindustan or Bharat’s (as don’t say India ) civilization i.e Indus Valley civilization and other civilization and genesis of these concerned to your quotations which is well explained history and also in social studies, the Competition Success, etc.Answer of your last question might be that entrance of Muslims and muslim rulers into different parts of Bharat starting from Sindh.Excepting best muslim rulers, due due to supremacy Muslims over hindus and barbarism most of the Hindu population forced to converted to muslim and due to this Sindh become 90% Muslim or more population. You should go through Nehru’s book “Glymps of History..”.Don’t mind please.Jai Bharat mata.
    Dr. K.K.Bonia, Professor, Guwahati,Assam

    Comment by Dr. K.K. Bonia | January 1, 2013

  7. Namaste,

    I find it still not convincing.

    Sindhu –> through Persians –> Hindu

    That means there are no words in Persian which starts with “S”?

    for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_name has many names starting with “S”. There are also many words as well.

    I think this conversion of Sindhu to Hindu is not correct, may be we don’t know how it came, but i fail to believe the Persian story?


    Comment by Arun | September 24, 2013

  8. Good that i stumbled my way to reach this page. I have been disturbed by the thought “if the words ‘India’ and ‘Hinduism’ are products of mispronounciation by outsiders, where does that leave my national and ‘religious’ identity?”
    I am all for reverting to / adopting bhAratvarsh & sanAtana dharma.

    Comment by Swarna | June 28, 2014

  9. Here’s Ram Jethamalani on the origin and connotation of the word, “Hindu”:

    The word Hinduism did not exist before 1830. It was created by the English colonialists. I quote this from the secular Encyclopaedia Britannica, and not from an Indian text, that can be alleged to be “Hindutva propaganda”, a common but ignorant idiom of attack. There is no mention of the terms “Hindu” or “Sanatana Dharma” in the Vedas, Puranas or any other religious text prior to 1830 AD. Nor are they found in any inscription or in any record of foreign travellers to India before English rule. The term “Hindusthan” was first used in the 12th century by Muhammad Ghori, who dubbed his new subjects “Hindus”.

    Throughout India’s ancient history, the word Hindu was never meant to denote religion. It was a geographic and cultural term used by the Greeks, Persians and Arabs, derived from the Sanskrit Sindhu, to describe the people living by and beyond the river Sindhu. The Greeks modified Sindhu to Indos, and it is said that ancient Persian explorers because of their pronunciation rules dropped the letter S from Sindhu, and called the people living around the Sindhu River as Hindus.

    Though initially an outsiders’ term, this nomenclature stuck and became a label after the Muslim conquests to distinguish between the original inhabitants of the land from the invaders. Then came the first census of India by the British in 1871 that defined “Hindu” as an omnibus term to encompass several religions that were not Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or Jain. Later, the term Sanatana Dharma was invented to deliberately swallow the English invention of Hinduism. The British, after the mutiny of 1857, had made it a policy to use every possible means — political, administrative and social to accentuate identity differences and create conflict between the Muslims and the Hindus and started official use of the term Hindu to connote religious identity. Thus, a term that originated to give geographical and cultural identity to a people, mutated through usage attributed by the rulers through the turbulent history of India, into a word connoting a religion, and that is how it stands today.

    And what according to the British did their newly coined religion “Hindu” stand for? They couldn’t figure out too much, except that it was an extremely lofty philosophy that truth or reality cannot be encapsulated in any dogma or creedal formulation, a perspective expressed in the Hindu prayer “may good thoughts come to us from all sides,” translated into multileveled, and pluralistic traditions. Since the term “Hindu religion” denotes all the religions of India together, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Tantrism, Shaktism, etc., each with different doctrines, often contrary to one another, it could not refer to any one single religion.

    Indeed, Encyclopaedia Britannica accepts that “Hinduism” is a blanket term covering several religions and does not refer to a single religion. “…Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions; it has neither a beginning, nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation. It is the glorious catholicity of Hinduism that one can be a believer in one God, or multiplicity of Gods or even none at all. Hinduism does not expel much less crucify alleged non believers. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. …Hinduism is not a revealed religion and, therefore, has neither a founder nor definite teachings or common system of doctrines … It has no organisation, no dogma or accepted creeds. There is no authority with recognised jurisdiction. A man, therefore, could neglect any one of the prescribed duties of his group and still be regarded as a good Hindu.”

    These are some of the commentaries on the faith and practice of the religion practised from time immemorial of the people living beyond the Indus who came to be called as Hindus by foreign invaders, and their extraordinary and indefinable religion coined as Hinduism by the British.

    Comment by B Shantanu | July 18, 2014

  10. Dear Shantanu,

    Hindu is not just a geographical term. It has come out of the people instead. There is originality to the name of this country and no it hasn’t sprouted from that river.
    Have posed a few questions to the author, though I’m doubtful of receiving any answer.
    1. If Persians were so incapable of pronouncing S and habitually turned everything S to H – how is it that Susa and Shiraz etc are names of Persian towns?
    2. If Greeks found it so difficult to pronounce Hindu and changed it to Indu, how is it that they have famous people named as Homer, Heraclitus and Herodotus among them?
    3. Why is it that Hieun Tsang clearly writes – “the correct pronunciation for Tien Chu (India) is Intu”. Intu is understood as Moon in China. Why?

    In ancient times, China was known as the land of Sun and India as the land of Moon.
    Why was India the land of Moon? Because the famous King Bharata after whom this country got its name, was a Chandravanshi kshatriya.
    intu means Moon even in Tamil.
    4. Persians say Hindu, Chinese say Intu and Greeks call us Indu. What is common in all these? The part – Ind. What does this Ind mean?
    It means Moon. We are the Moon people, simple as that.


    Comment by Virendra | July 31, 2014

  11. Fascinating research by Dr Kalyanaraman: Might “Bharat” – the name of the nation be derived from the metal trade? Read on (from a recent emial from him):

    “Bharat” , name of a nation. Root: bharatiyo ‘caster of metals’, bharat

    name of a nation. Root: bharatiyo ‘caster of metals’, bharat ‘metal alloy’ in Indus Script

    The trade in metals during the Bronze Age was transacted on the Tin Road from Meluhha, India to Haifa, Israel.

    Casting metals was by using * cire perdue* (lost-wax) casting method – *dhokra*, a gloss which is recorded in seals from Dholavira and
    Mohenjo-daro. Invention of alloys revolutionised Bronze Age thanks to the artisans of the Sarasvati-Sindhu (Hindu) civilization. A significant contribution was the invention of a writing system necessitated by the Bronze Age inventions and trade, using Meluhha hieroglyphs which provide clues to the invention of *bharat*, an alloy of copper, tin and zinc.

    भरत (p. 603)

    [bharata ] *n* A factitious metal compounded of copper, pewter, tin
    &c.भरताचें भांडें (p. 603)

    [bharatācē mbhāṇḍēṃ ] *n* A vessel made of the metal भरत. 2 See भरिताचें
    भांडें.भरती (p. 603)

    [bharatī ] *a* Composed of the metal भरत. (Molesworth Marathi
    Dictionary).This gloss, *bharata* is denoted by the hieroglyphs: backbone, ox.
    Seal published by Omananda Saraswati. In Pl. 275: Omananda Saraswati 1975.

    <a href="”Ancient Seals of Haryana (in Hindi). Rohtak.
    This pictorial motif gets normalized in Indus writing system as a hieroglyph sign: *baraḍo* = spine; backbone (Tulu) Rebus:*baran**, bharat* ‘mixed alloys’ (5 copper, 4 zinc and 1 tin) (Punjabi) Tir. mar — kaṇḍḗ ʻ back (of the body) ʼ; S. *kaṇḍo *m. ʻ back ʼ, L. *kaṇḍ* f., *kaṇḍā *m. ʻ backbone ʼ, awāṇ. *kaṇḍ, °ḍī ʻ* back ʼH. *kã̄ṭā *m. ʻ spine ʼ, G. *kã̄ṭɔ *m., M.
    *kã̄ṭā *m.; Pk. *kaṁḍa* — m. ʻ backbone ʼ.(CDIAL 2670) Rebus: *kaṇḍ
    *‘fire-altar’ (Santali) The hieroglyph ligature to convey the semantics of ‘bone’ and rebus reading is: ‘four short numeral strokes ligature’ |||| Numeral 4: *gaṇḍ**a* ‘four’ Rebus: *kaṇḍa*’furnace, fire-altar’ (Santali)

    This is one possible explanation for the ancient name of the Hindu nation: Bhāratam, mentioned in R̥gveda – the Bhāratam janam were metalworkers producing *bharat* mixed alloy of copper, zinc and tin.

    *bharatiyo* = a caster of metals; a brazier; bharatar, *bharatal, bharata* *ḷ* = moulded; an article made in a mould; *bharata* = casting metals in moulds; *bharavum* = to fill in; to put in; to pour into (Gujarati) *bhart* = a mixed metal of copper and lead;*bhartīyā* = a brazier, worker in metal;*bha**ṭ, bhrāṣṭ**ra* = oven, furnace (Sanskrit.) m1225a Side b: ‘*svastika*’ hieroglyph: Rebus: *jasta, sattva* , *satthiya,* *zasath *‘zinc’PLUS ‘four’ strokes: |||| Numeral 4: *gaṇḍa* ‘four’

    Rebus: *kaṇḍa* ‘furnace, fire-altar’ (Santali) PLUS | *koḍa*‘one’ Rebus: * koḍ* ‘workshop’ Thus, zinc fire-altar, workshop

    Side a: *balad* m. ʻox ʼ, gng. *bald*, (Ku.) *barad*, id. (Nepali. Tarai) Rebus: *bharat* (5 copper, 4 zinc and 1 tin)(Punjabi) *pattar *‘trough’ Rebus*: pattar* ‘guild, goldsmith’. Thus, copper-zinc-tin alloy (worker)

    *kanac* ‘corner’ Rebus: *kañcu* ‘bronze’ (Telugu) *dula* ‘two’ Rebus: *dul *‘cast metal’ kolom ‘three’ Rebus: *kolami *‘smithy, forge’ Numeral || *dula *‘two’ Rebus: *dul* ‘cast metal’ Numeral III *kolom* ‘three’

    Rebus: *kolami *‘smithy, forge’ *kuṭila* ‘bent’ CDIAL 3230 kuṭi— in cmpd. ‘curve’, *kuṭika*— ‘bent’ MBh. Rebus:*kuṭila, katthīl *= bronze (8 parts copper and 2 parts tin) kastīra n. ʻ tin ʼ lex.H. *kathīr* m. ʻtin, pewterʼ; G. *kathīr* n. ʻ pewter ʼ.2. H. (Bhoj.?) *kathīl*, *°lā* m. ʻ tin, pewter ʼ; M. *kathīl* n. ʻ tin ʼ, *kathlẽ* n. ʻ large tin vessel ʼ(CDIAL 2984)

    *kaṇḍa **kanka* ‘rim of jar’ Rebus: *karṇīka* ‘account (scribe)’ *karṇī* ‘supercargo’. *kaṇḍa *’fire-altar’.

    Comment by B Shantanu | September 27, 2014

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.